20 WOMEN IN OUR LIVES

20 WOMEN IN OUR LIVES

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, and we’re observing Women’s History Month in March. We asked women and men in the agency to write about a woman they admire—a relative, friend or mentor. We were inspired by the responses. We think you will be, too.

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, and we’re observing Women’s History Month in March. We asked women and men in the agency to write about a woman they admire—a relative, friend or mentor. We were inspired by the responses. We think you will be, too.

1. Rebecca Arbene: In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to give a shout-out to an international woman—my grandma.

She was born in Pisa, Italy, in 1929 and survived WWII bombings that left her and her family without a home. In fact, she lived in a cave for three months.

It was in the 1940s that she met my grandfather who was in the US Army. By age 17 she became a war bride, married in her family’s one-room home (to this day, when she describes it, she is saddened there were no photos).

She left Italy for a better life in the US, heading over on a ship with other war brides, but was unable to enjoy the journey because she felt sick the entire time. She was pregnant with my dad. She arrived in Boston unable to speak any English and settled into her new life with my grandfather’s family.

Over the years, she raised two boys (even though she wasn’t able to be of much help with their homework!), and worked in a bakery, followed by a school kitchen. She told me about going from two dollars an hour to minimum wage, which is the most she ever earned. She also taught herself English and how to drive (without much help from my grandfather—he didn’t like the idea of her “getting around town”).

Seventy years later, she still lives in the same house they settled in outside of Boston, now by herself. And she continues to amaze me. She’s friends with nearly everyone in the neighborhood, and they kindly check in on her every day.

And in classic Italian fashion, she enjoys the sun (has never worn sunscreen), chatting, and feeding people! And she has no shortage of advice. The last time I visited after our Amica trip, she reminded me to “not work too hard” and to “not let them pay me any less just because I’m a woman.” I thought that was pretty sharp coming from someone approaching her 90th birthday.

To my grandma and all the strong women who have persevered to create brighter futures for themselves and, in turn, so many of us.

2. Mike Hayward: My mother, Charlotte Faye DeShon (how southern is that?), was raised poor in Summerville, South Carolina. She was smart and witty, and desperately wanted to go to college. She begged to go, but her father forbade it, and her dream ended that quickly.

She met my dad, moved to Montana, and had kids right away as society dictated. She put everything she had into our success. She was both tough as nails and infinitely lovable. She was a wonderful writer, though it only got expressed through personal letters. I often wonder what could have been if she’d been given the opportunities I was given.

She got diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 23 and handled it with an amazing grace that I still find impossible to fathom.

Along with her warmth and wit, the thing I remember most about my mom was her sense of justice. There was right, and there was wrong, and she’d tell you which was which. She railed against racism, bigotry and discrimination. If my mom were alive today, I know she’d be at every march, every sit-in, and every protest for equality. And I bet she’d kill it on Twitter.

 

3. Chris Copacino:
#1: My wife
For all you full-time working mothers out there, I salute you. I watch my wife successfully juggle her career, be a wonderful mother, manage our household and, most challenging, tolerate me. Is it hard? Hell yes, especially the last one. I like to think I am an active participant in our household and think we successfully defy historical gender roles, but I marvel at what she does on a daily basis. I have so much appreciation for her heart, her drive, her memory, her attention to detail and her not resting until she feels like she has done every last thing she can for us in a day. Not out of duty nor expectation, but out of love. She’s incredible.

#2: Grandma Jayne (GG)
At 94, she’s still a spitfire. Brimmed red wine and R&R (w/water) when no one is looking. She is a four-time cancer survivor, and every time she has gotten sick, I truly believe that her fortitude and relentlessness has pulled her through. Her life isn’t exactly what is once was: She is forever a heartbroken widow, she has lost much of her independence (gave up the car keys a couple of years ago) and she is self-effacing about her memory loss. She could dwell on the negative, but she rarely complains and she keeps her attention on the positive—mostly her family. Her heart is wide open and she showers us with love as the matriarch of our family. Our kids adore her (their GG), and every time I invite her over to dinner, her voice cracks with happy emotion. She is a tough woman who loves deeply. Yes, those are awesomely not mutually exclusive things, and she is amazing.

4. Carly Walsh: My grandmother Mary Lou Higley is a huge inspiration in my life; she faced many challenges being a woman in the 1950s.

She moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to Seattle to pursue her bachelor’s at UW. After she graduated, she became an airline stewardess for United Airlines. All stewardesses were required to weigh themselves, be single, and fit into the petite uniform. The TV show Pan Am paints an accurate picture of the expectations on women of that time. She remembers that time fondly, and as full of adventure, but had also learned to accept the facade she had to put on for the men riding those planes.

When she met my grandfather in Seattle, and married him, she was forced to quit that job. She persevered and went on to work at the UW, volunteer, and raise four babies including my mom. She may fit the typical 1950s female stereotype, but she’s a boss! She ran that household, demanded respect, and raised two strong, independent women in my mother and aunt. My grandfather adores and respects her, and always did the dishes.

She taught me through her challenges and triumphs that no matter whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a CEO, and everything in between, be someone who makes your voice heard and know your worth.

5. Betti Fujikado: My grandmother, who was a picture bride at 18, was sent to America to marry a man of whom she only had a picture. She never learned English, although she lived in Seattle until she passed away at 96. She had the responsibility to pack the family belongings, sell what she could, protect what little could be protected, and take her four children in a matter of days to the incarceration centers at the Puyallup Fair and then Minidoka in Idaho. My grandfather was arrested and tried as a war criminal for importing Japanese watches. (He was acquitted and joined them at the camps later.)

My mother was 11 when incarcerated, was turned away for housing as a newlywed, graduated from the UW with honors, then rose to become a UW lecturer and fashion illustrator for Nordstrom. She taught me you could successfully combine motherhood and work. She taught me to be smart, tough, confident, and persistent. (She will tell you that I exceeded beyond her dreams of persistence.)

To my daughters, because I know that my experience as a feminist is so much different than theirs. They teach me every day.

And to the women of C+F. You are on my list for the “20 Women to Admire in 20/20.” It says: “I’m cheating a bit on the 20 women when I include all the women I get to work with at C+F, but it’s so appropriate to include every one. They’re my teachers. My motivation. My support. We’ve been having important conversations lately about #metoo, #timesup, the 3% Movement, 100% Talent, and all the other discussions important to gender diversity, equity, and inclusion. Thank you for your openness, your expertise, and your trust. I am changed by you every day.”

6. Emily Bishop: One of the strongest women I’ve ever known is my host mom from Rwanda, Mama Muhire. She took me into her family and took care of me during one of the best, and hardest, years of my life. From the day I arrived in Cyangugu, she told our neighbors how excited she was to have a second daughter. For that whole year she cooked me my favorite Rwandan dinner whenever I was homesick, gave me back rubs when I was sore from walking up and down hills all day, and prepared me fresh ginger tea when I had a cold.

Mama Muhire is filled with so much laughter and joy, but she’s had an unimaginably difficult life. She survived the Rwandan genocide when she was about 11 and lived on her own for a few years before she was able to be reunited with her surviving family members. She didn’t have more than a primary school education, so she told me her greatest goal is for all her children to go to college. She runs a cassava flour mill business that provides for her family. She wakes up and goes to work every day, comes home to cook dinner, and takes care of her children. She puts in longer workdays than anyone I know.

Mama Muhire and I loved dancing in the living room to Tanzanian music videos, going into town to shop for new clothes, and playing with her kids. She barely spoke a word of English, so our communication was limited, but in a year we became deep friends. She used to hold my hand while we walked from the market back to our house so people would know I was with her, as I often was yelled at by strangers when I walked alone. She understood how difficult it was to be a woman in the world in a way my host father didn’t, and I’ll always be grateful for her protection in that way. She was my mom-away-from-home.

I’ll be drinking ginger tea today for her!

7. Lisa Griffith: While there are many women to admire, my oma, nicknamed “Putzi,” was and still is the most amazing and inspirational woman I’ve ever known. She was born in Munich, Germany, in 1911, and lived through WWII, surviving three years in a concentration camp. In part, due to her fluency in seven languages and her knack for bookkeeping, the Nazis deemed she had enough value to keep alive. She was fed something most days and worked in the concentration camp offices. After losing her first husband during the war, she met my grandfather, a US GI, upon her and my great-aunt’s liberation from the camp. They had a whirlwind romance, fell in love, and wanted to get married. His sergeant did not approve of their engagement, so he was subsequently shipped back to the US before they could marry. Not to be thwarted, they continued their romance long-distance until she was able to join him. My oma, my aunt, great-aunt, and great-grandmother immigrated to the US in the fall of 1946. With the rest of her family staying in New York, eventually settling in New Jersey, my oma and aunt traveled by train from NY to western WA to be reunited with my grandfather. They were married two days after their arrival, she thought he was a rich man because he owned his own toaster.

She would not share much of her life during the war; when asked, she would reply, “Das ist nicht für jetzt (that is not for now).” Though it shaped her, she never let what she’d been through, what she’d lost or the horrors she’d experienced or seen, slow her down or hold her back. She was fiercely independent, sharp, and quick-witted up until her death in 1998 at 87. She had a vibrancy about her that I still miss today.

Her life’s philosophy was to work hard, explore new places, laugh often, celebrate family, never go to bed angry, and end your day with a good beer. She was a beer snob to the end; tonight’s glass will be raised in her honor. Prost zu meine Lieblings Grossmutterlein!

This is a portrait of my oma Louise “Putzi” McGahuey, circa 1917, first day of school.

8. Mark Billows: I grew up with a single working mom pretty much the moment I was born. When you are young, you basically take everything for granted. Things just happen for you. You need to be somewhere, you are suddenly taken there. You need food, BAM, there it is. It’s like magic. Things just happen. As you get older, you realize more and more what it takes for parents to make that kind of experience for you. That said, I’m amazed at how much my single working mom must have done to provide for me and my brother.

Where am I going with this? Several years ago my mom and I were talking about the business world. During that conversation she mentioned how she was turned away from jobs not long after I was born because she was told by employers—who were men—that they wouldn’t want to see her having to deal with the male workers if hired. In other words, being exposed to sexual harassment and sexist behaviors. My mom had two young kids to feed, so she would tell them she’d learn to deal with it because she really needed the job. But the employers would still say no, thinking somehow they were doing her a favor. Now, how ridiculous a situation is that? No outcome here is acceptable. Yet that was the choice.

My mom would eventually get a job, earn an income, and work through the sexism and sexual harassment that was much more out in the open in her time than it is now. Meanwhile, things at home “magically” happened for my brother and me even with these added obstacles my mother faced.

Now, have things gotten all that much better than when my mom worked? Revelations and lawsuits at Fox News, Uber, branches of the US Armed Forces, the tech industry, etc., show us it hasn’t at a rate that’s anywhere near acceptable. I myself have either seen or have been told of sexism and sexual harassment by coworkers my entire career. Most all of us have. But my work path has been void of these added hurdles and minefields. Why? Because I have a Y chromosome.

This is why it’s important to provide equal experience as much as equal pay. Because equal pay doesn’t remove sexual harassment, chauvinism, or misogyny. Equal pay doesn’t change work customs and organizational platforms based on how men best operate, manage, and work. And equal pay doesn’t help women get promoted, listened to in meetings, or mentored effectively. Only an equal experience does all this. And the only way that can be provided is through the active involvement of all men, not just the ones who decide salaries, hiring, and budgets. All of us need to be leveling the playing field.

Now, creating a level playing field doesn’t just mean removing the uphill struggle for women. That’s only half of it. It also means voluntarily removing the downhill advantages men benefit from. The two are connected like the wood plank of a seesaw: the movement of one side determines the other. This means men will lose more job opportunities to deserving women. And we should. This also means we will make less in average salary, raises, and promotions over time so women can continue to get fairly compensated for the same work. And again, we should, as the quest for an equal experience relies on redistributing our historical pay and recognition advantage. For equality, this dynamic needs to happen; there is no other way it can.

So if you’re a man who supports equal pay for women, please do not lose sight of the bigger picture. Please notice the visible and the invisible elements in your work environment that unfairly obstruct women. Then work to remove those barriers, even if it means more effort and less benefits for you.

I also would suggest that guys ask their moms about the sexism and sexual harassment they experienced in life. It’s important you hear these things from her. She won’t tell you everything, but even one story will have an impact greater than a news story on this topic.

I don’t pretend I am saying anything new here. This is more a reminder that awareness of this issue isn’t good enough anymore: men need to be active in helping to solve this on all levels. If women and men can achieve an equal experience in the workplace, maybe we’ll do better in achieving that on a larger scale. You know, like on this planet we all share.

9. Andrew Gall: Andrea Gall was a registered nurse with Group Health up on Capitol Hill for her entire career (!) before retiring a couple of years back. For a good portion of the last couple decades, she ran the Teen Pregnancy Clinic, an incredibly challenging position that forced her to deal with everything from fired-up, angry young dads showing up at the clinic unannounced to debunking insane urban myths (“I was told if I drank Mountain Dew I couldn’t get pregnant!”), to maintaining a poker face upon hearing that the patient’s baby’s name is ABCDE (pronounced “Ab-ka-dee”). And all the while, she set hundreds of young ladies down the right path to successful new mommyhood. She has a patient sense of calm and humility that blows my mind daily. And now that she’s retired, I get to see that patience and calm on display firsthand with my son almost every week. She’s the best!

10. Sam Stuesser: The youngest daughter of a mailman in south Milwaukee, Virginia Stuesser graduated from Marquette University with a degree in advertising and marketing. Shortly thereafter, she started as a copywriter at a local radio station. Despite having a college degree, she was paid $400 a week, and was hit on by the station manager and a corporate executive.

After a few years, she met Dennis Curro, who had founded a small ad agency in Milwaukee, Curro/Eichenbaum. She became the firm’s first media director, learning the trade from the ground up.

At one agency, where she rebuilt the entire media department, she was told she was hired to be the “face” of the media department. During this time, it appeared that male agency principals could behave however they wished, which included kicking down locked doors, loudly ranting and raving, and berating employees when they were still in earshot. It was accepted. It was common.

Happily, Ginny is now a director at Shine United, a 42-person shop in Madison, Wisconsin, that has been featured in Communication Arts. Ginny is the agency’s first media director and takes pride in the team she has built, which is 100 percent female.

11. Cameron Wicker: My personal heroes are my great-aunts, Catherine and Margaret Wicker. Both were born in the early 1900s in Carthage, North Carolina, in a family with six children. When I was a kid, we’d go visit them—they lived on a tobacco farm in a tiny, rickety house my great-great-grandfather built. At the time, they were both retired, neither had ever married, and the two sisters lived together. They were both amazing cooks and made their own wine, which they called “recipe.” As a kid, I loved visiting them—they were so much fun and interesting, and both were great southern storytellers.

It was only later that I realized how remarkable they were. Catherine was super tall and her high school basketball team went to the state championships in the 1920s. This was back when women didn’t really play sports (and the women’s team played half court while wearing long dresses!). She was always really proud of that. She stayed in Carthage her whole life and made her living as a hairdresser.

Margaret went off to Atlanta to nursing school and eventually became the head nurse at Emory’s nursing school.

These two were such pioneers and firecrackers, especially for their time! I never once heard them regret not marrying or having children. And my family members never acted like it was anything out of the ordinary.

I don’t know if I realized it then, but they were certainly role models for me. I wish they were both alive right now so I could tell them. Here’s to Catherine and Margaret and all my fellow firecrackers!

12. Paul Balcerak: My mom raised three boys with not much help from my dad, including my youngest brother who had autism. This was back in the 1990s when there wasn’t much knowledge about what that was or how to deal with it. Life was a huge struggle at times. He bounced around to (I lost track of how many) different schools, therapists, specialists, and so on. But my mom just kept on trucking. She never knew if he’d be able to hold down a job or live on his own, but she never stopped trying to make the best life for him possible.

Sadly, he also struggled heavily with depression. Three years ago this spring, he shot and killed himself and my stepsister. Which is really sad, and a lot of us in the family just shut down for a while. My mom, though—within six months, she had signed up as a volunteer with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and was the citizen sponsor on Initiative 1491 (that’s her and my stepdad on the far left). That initiative passed on the night of the 2016 elections and created a Washington State law that allows police and family members to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order, which—yes—allows the government to come take your guns if you’ve displayed a history of dangerous behavior toward yourself and/or others. It’s the kind of thing we would have used on my brother if it had existed at the time.

Fast-forward to last week—the Seattle Police Department served an ERPO warrant on a guy just down the street from us in Belltown who had been harassing and threatening his neighbors. They took a handgun from him and are working on getting other guns from him, too.

So: Sad story, yes. But our little corner of the world is a little bit safer today thanks to my mom. Cheers to her.

13. Sun Yi: Let me tell you about my mom. I’ve known her all my life, but sometimes she can still be a mystery to me. She did not have a mother figure while growing up, but was the best mom I could’ve ever wished for. She moved to a new country at the age of 29, not knowing the language and not knowing if it would all turn out. She taught me how to ride a bike. Then, she learned how to drive and had the opportunity to work outside the home. Her humility and strength amaze me even today. I will raise a glass to her and all the many women here and everywhere who may not make the daily news, but are still changing the world.

14. Dave Kurs: The best woman of international fame that I know is my grandmother. She raised three daughters in a 900-square-foot apartment in Queens after moving to the US from Beirut in 1962.

15. Teresa Ling: Growing up in a multicultural household is one of those things that cannot be explained, but, rather, must be experienced. My grandmother—conqueror of six languages, a Taiwanese immigrant, and former fashion icon—made navigating what felt like two separate worlds so much easier. She kept me grounded in my culture: we played Chinese chess together after school, fried green onion pancakes in the kitchen, and watched Japanese dramas on the weekends. At the same time, she showed me the beauty of Seattle and all the things available in America that weren’t as accessible back home in Taiwan. She helped me build a bridge between where home was in my heart and where home was physically. She taught me to appreciate my surroundings, but to never lose sight of my roots, and to find joy and laughter in every moment. She’s truly one of the most remarkable women I know, and I live every day hoping to be a little more like her.

16. Jim Copacino: The story of my beloved grandmothers (“the Nonnas”) is the story of America. Born in the late 19th century in an impoverished region of northern Italy, they left home as young women to seek better lives in the United States. (Footnote: there were only 46 states when they arrived!) They crossed the Atlantic in steerage, arriving in the New World without language skills or job opportunities. Their only stateside connections were distant relatives.

They found menial jobs. Nonna Copacino (born Carolina Roero) worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Nonna Serasio (born Rosa Conti) worked as a domestic for a family in Brooklyn. Each woman eventually married and relocated to Torrington, a town in northwestern Connecticut where a number of immigrants from their native region found work in the local brass mill. They settled into humble yet comfortable working-class lives. I was born in Torrington and grew up in a small house adjacent to the duplex where my grandmothers lived. Nonna Copacino and my grandfather, Luigi, lived downstairs; the widowed Nonna Serasio lived upstairs.

The memories of my childhood are vivid and warm. My grandmothers doted on my brothers and me; theirs were a second home for us. Every Sunday afternoon was an extended-family feast prepared by the Nonnas—antipasti, soup, pasta, meat, and dessert. The wine flowed, the adults sang Italian songs, the kids played in the yard, laughter filled the air. What stood out to me, even as a boy, was how grateful my grandmothers were for their lives and families.

As I listen to the current political discourse, I often think of Nonna Copacino and Nonna Serasio. Why would we want to close our borders to people who have the desire and courage to improve their lives? Why deprive people who are so appreciative of the opportunity? Why deny the beauty of cultural diversity to our society? Are you listening, Mr. President?

(Nonna Serasio, Nonna Copacino, and some dork in a bad tuxedo at my wedding)

17. Colby Naiker: I am lucky to be surrounded by powerful female figures. But I have to give a shout-out to my amazing mama. Not only did she and my dad raise two girls of their own, but she was responsible for influencing the lives of countless students in her 38 years as a teacher at Fife High School. My mom is the rock of our family. She’s taught us how to communicate effectively, practice empathy, and be direct. She has a huge heart and firmly believes in leading by example. I am also incredibly lucky that she retired and gets to spend two days a week watching my two-year-old! They have developed an incredible bond, and we are so spoiled to have her in our lives.

18. Dimitri Perera: My grandma immigrated to the US back in the 1970s, without knowing anyone. She worked tirelessly and was able to sponsor my dad and the rest of my family to come here for school. She started a path that allowed my family to have a life in the US, and that’s pretty powerful. In the mid-1990s she was diagnosed with cancer, and I remember she was super positive throughout it all. I didn’t really grasp how devastating cancer was at the time, but knowing what I know now, it’s not surprising how she would put on a positive and strong display when I was around with my cousins.

19. Andrew Clementi: My girlfriend, Kayla, is not only the most inspiring woman I know but also the most inspiring person, period. She’s insanely smart, highly motivated, and has a seriously impressive life story: growing up in borderline poverty, she decided that in order to be successful, she would leave home at age 13 to put herself through boarding school. The fact that she accomplished that would be pretty impressive on its own, but she had her sights set even higher; ignoring the advice of her peers and her own doubts, she applied to and was accepted into nearly all the Ivy League schools, ultimately settling on Yale. While studying at one of the most demanding universities in the world, she steadily worked two jobs to pay her bills and graduate with a minimum of debt—no mean feat at a school where tuition alone is nearly $50,000 a year. After graduation, rather than taking a cushy finance job, she dedicated her career to aiding underprivileged communities and first-generation college students. Of course, she’s not really the type to rest on her laurels and has already begun the process of studying for and applying to business school (at the top 10 universities, obviously). Watching her plan for her goals and put those plans into action, I’ve begun to understand why she’s been able to accomplish so much: she’s driven to be the best person that she can be, and she won’t let anything get in the way of that.

As someone who was born with much more and has accomplished much less, seeing that drive is both humbling and inspiring. In so many ways, she’s inspired me to strive for more, to not make excuses, to continually challenge myself, and to be a better person; it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if I hadn’t met Kayla.

20. Nicole Koestel: My grandmother, Kathryn Debnar Arwine, affectionately known as Mammaw, is hands down one of the most resilient, selfless, positive, and courageous women I know. She has survived so many hardships in life with grace and love that it’s pretty hard to comprehend at times.

She was born to two Czechoslovakian immigrants in Detroit in 1924, who basically told her she was worthless. Her dad was an alcoholic; her mom probably had what we know nowadays as bipolar disorder. My grandmother lived in poverty, was an only child, and didn’t have many toys. (I remember reading her writing in a book how grateful she was to have one toy and a stick to play with.) She also was born premature, weighing 1.5 pounds, 5–6 inches in length: it was a miracle that she lived through that during that time. So if anyone was set up to fail, it was this woman . . . but not so fast.

Growing up was lonely for her, so she used her natural musical ability (on piano) and singing (opera) and her faith to keep going. While she was studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1949, she received a Fulbright Scholarship from the Italian government to study opera at the Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan, Italy. She performed there and in New York City throughout her 20s. Her favorite opera is La Traviata. Unfortunately, she never could fully make a career from singing because of her health. She was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But Mams didn’t let that stop her: she found many ways to continue singing and performing up through her 70s—whether it was in church or on a theater stage; she even acted in a few local commercials.

Side note: She also made sure music was passed down to her grandchildren—I remember when we would go visit her, our two movie choices were either Fiddler on the Roof or Sound of Music, for like 10 years in a row. She did not try to keep up with Disney. She also inspired me to take the 10 years of piano that I did.

After she divorced my mom’s father, she went back to school in her 50s to get her master’s degree in special education. She graduated the same year my mom graduated high school. I find this so inspiring! Especially during that time with the expected roles for women. She remarried and taught special ed classes and piano lessons in her home. She was always quick with a laugh, and loved taking us to shows and teaching us about history.

In her early 70s, she got in a car wreck that re-triggered her MS, so the last 15 years or so of her life had her moving progressively slower. And then later she developed macular degeneration, which is an incurable eye disease leaving blurred peripheral vision. Attached is one of my favorite pics with her as we always had fun when we would say, “Look at the camera, Mams, and smile,” knowing that her face would not be facing the camera. She was a great spirit.

So despite only making it to four foot eleven, she shouldered so many huge setbacks with such humor and faith, showing us all how our outlook on life really does affect how we respond to the world and our realities. She had one of the biggest hearts I have ever encountered. So thankful and proud to call her mine.

20 WOMEN IN OUR LIVES

20 WOMEN IN OUR LIVES

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, and we’re observing Women’s History Month in March. We asked women and men in the agency to write about a woman they admire—a relative, friend or mentor. We were inspired by the responses. We think you will be, too.

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, and we’re observing Women’s History Month in March. We asked women and men in the agency to write about a woman they admire—a relative, friend or mentor. We were inspired by the responses. We think you will be, too.

1. Rebecca Arbene: In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to give a shout-out to an international woman—my grandma.

She was born in Pisa, Italy, in 1929 and survived WWII bombings that left her and her family without a home. In fact, she lived in a cave for three months.

It was in the 1940s that she met my grandfather who was in the US Army. By age 17 she became a war bride, married in her family’s one-room home (to this day, when she describes it, she is saddened there were no photos).

She left Italy for a better life in the US, heading over on a ship with other war brides, but was unable to enjoy the journey because she felt sick the entire time. She was pregnant with my dad. She arrived in Boston unable to speak any English and settled into her new life with my grandfather’s family.

Over the years, she raised two boys (even though she wasn’t able to be of much help with their homework!), and worked in a bakery, followed by a school kitchen. She told me about going from two dollars an hour to minimum wage, which is the most she ever earned. She also taught herself English and how to drive (without much help from my grandfather—he didn’t like the idea of her “getting around town”).

Seventy years later, she still lives in the same house they settled in outside of Boston, now by herself. And she continues to amaze me. She’s friends with nearly everyone in the neighborhood, and they kindly check in on her every day.

And in classic Italian fashion, she enjoys the sun (has never worn sunscreen), chatting, and feeding people! And she has no shortage of advice. The last time I visited after our Amica trip, she reminded me to “not work too hard” and to “not let them pay me any less just because I’m a woman.” I thought that was pretty sharp coming from someone approaching her 90th birthday.

To my grandma and all the strong women who have persevered to create brighter futures for themselves and, in turn, so many of us.

2. Mike Hayward: My mother, Charlotte Faye DeShon (how southern is that?), was raised poor in Summerville, South Carolina. She was smart and witty, and desperately wanted to go to college. She begged to go, but her father forbade it, and her dream ended that quickly.

She met my dad, moved to Montana, and had kids right away as society dictated. She put everything she had into our success. She was both tough as nails and infinitely lovable. She was a wonderful writer, though it only got expressed through personal letters. I often wonder what could have been if she’d been given the opportunities I was given.

She got diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 23 and handled it with an amazing grace that I still find impossible to fathom.

Along with her warmth and wit, the thing I remember most about my mom was her sense of justice. There was right, and there was wrong, and she’d tell you which was which. She railed against racism, bigotry and discrimination. If my mom were alive today, I know she’d be at every march, every sit-in, and every protest for equality. And I bet she’d kill it on Twitter.

 

3. Chris Copacino:
#1: My wife
For all you full-time working mothers out there, I salute you. I watch my wife successfully juggle her career, be a wonderful mother, manage our household and, most challenging, tolerate me. Is it hard? Hell yes, especially the last one. I like to think I am an active participant in our household and think we successfully defy historical gender roles, but I marvel at what she does on a daily basis. I have so much appreciation for her heart, her drive, her memory, her attention to detail and her not resting until she feels like she has done every last thing she can for us in a day. Not out of duty nor expectation, but out of love. She’s incredible.

#2: Grandma Jayne (GG)
At 94, she’s still a spitfire. Brimmed red wine and R&R (w/water) when no one is looking. She is a four-time cancer survivor, and every time she has gotten sick, I truly believe that her fortitude and relentlessness has pulled her through. Her life isn’t exactly what is once was: She is forever a heartbroken widow, she has lost much of her independence (gave up the car keys a couple of years ago) and she is self-effacing about her memory loss. She could dwell on the negative, but she rarely complains and she keeps her attention on the positive—mostly her family. Her heart is wide open and she showers us with love as the matriarch of our family. Our kids adore her (their GG), and every time I invite her over to dinner, her voice cracks with happy emotion. She is a tough woman who loves deeply. Yes, those are awesomely not mutually exclusive things, and she is amazing.

4. Carly Walsh: My grandmother Mary Lou Higley is a huge inspiration in my life; she faced many challenges being a woman in the 1950s.

She moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to Seattle to pursue her bachelor’s at UW. After she graduated, she became an airline stewardess for United Airlines. All stewardesses were required to weigh themselves, be single, and fit into the petite uniform. The TV show Pan Am paints an accurate picture of the expectations on women of that time. She remembers that time fondly, and as full of adventure, but had also learned to accept the facade she had to put on for the men riding those planes.

When she met my grandfather in Seattle, and married him, she was forced to quit that job. She persevered and went on to work at the UW, volunteer, and raise four babies including my mom. She may fit the typical 1950s female stereotype, but she’s a boss! She ran that household, demanded respect, and raised two strong, independent women in my mother and aunt. My grandfather adores and respects her, and always did the dishes.

She taught me through her challenges and triumphs that no matter whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a CEO, and everything in between, be someone who makes your voice heard and know your worth.

5. Betti Fujikado: My grandmother, who was a picture bride at 18, was sent to America to marry a man of whom she only had a picture. She never learned English, although she lived in Seattle until she passed away at 96. She had the responsibility to pack the family belongings, sell what she could, protect what little could be protected, and take her four children in a matter of days to the incarceration centers at the Puyallup Fair and then Minidoka in Idaho. My grandfather was arrested and tried as a war criminal for importing Japanese watches. (He was acquitted and joined them at the camps later.)

My mother was 11 when incarcerated, was turned away for housing as a newlywed, graduated from the UW with honors, then rose to become a UW lecturer and fashion illustrator for Nordstrom. She taught me you could successfully combine motherhood and work. She taught me to be smart, tough, confident, and persistent. (She will tell you that I exceeded beyond her dreams of persistence.)

To my daughters, because I know that my experience as a feminist is so much different than theirs. They teach me every day.

And to the women of C+F. You are on my list for the “20 Women to Admire in 20/20.” It says: “I’m cheating a bit on the 20 women when I include all the women I get to work with at C+F, but it’s so appropriate to include every one. They’re my teachers. My motivation. My support. We’ve been having important conversations lately about #metoo, #timesup, the 3% Movement, 100% Talent, and all the other discussions important to gender diversity, equity, and inclusion. Thank you for your openness, your expertise, and your trust. I am changed by you every day.”

6. Emily Bishop: One of the strongest women I’ve ever known is my host mom from Rwanda, Mama Muhire. She took me into her family and took care of me during one of the best, and hardest, years of my life. From the day I arrived in Cyangugu, she told our neighbors how excited she was to have a second daughter. For that whole year she cooked me my favorite Rwandan dinner whenever I was homesick, gave me back rubs when I was sore from walking up and down hills all day, and prepared me fresh ginger tea when I had a cold.

Mama Muhire is filled with so much laughter and joy, but she’s had an unimaginably difficult life. She survived the Rwandan genocide when she was about 11 and lived on her own for a few years before she was able to be reunited with her surviving family members. She didn’t have more than a primary school education, so she told me her greatest goal is for all her children to go to college. She runs a cassava flour mill business that provides for her family. She wakes up and goes to work every day, comes home to cook dinner, and takes care of her children. She puts in longer workdays than anyone I know.

Mama Muhire and I loved dancing in the living room to Tanzanian music videos, going into town to shop for new clothes, and playing with her kids. She barely spoke a word of English, so our communication was limited, but in a year we became deep friends. She used to hold my hand while we walked from the market back to our house so people would know I was with her, as I often was yelled at by strangers when I walked alone. She understood how difficult it was to be a woman in the world in a way my host father didn’t, and I’ll always be grateful for her protection in that way. She was my mom-away-from-home.

I’ll be drinking ginger tea today for her!

7. Lisa Griffith: While there are many women to admire, my oma, nicknamed “Putzi,” was and still is the most amazing and inspirational woman I’ve ever known. She was born in Munich, Germany, in 1911, and lived through WWII, surviving three years in a concentration camp. In part, due to her fluency in seven languages and her knack for bookkeeping, the Nazis deemed she had enough value to keep alive. She was fed something most days and worked in the concentration camp offices. After losing her first husband during the war, she met my grandfather, a US GI, upon her and my great-aunt’s liberation from the camp. They had a whirlwind romance, fell in love, and wanted to get married. His sergeant did not approve of their engagement, so he was subsequently shipped back to the US before they could marry. Not to be thwarted, they continued their romance long-distance until she was able to join him. My oma, my aunt, great-aunt, and great-grandmother immigrated to the US in the fall of 1946. With the rest of her family staying in New York, eventually settling in New Jersey, my oma and aunt traveled by train from NY to western WA to be reunited with my grandfather. They were married two days after their arrival, she thought he was a rich man because he owned his own toaster.

She would not share much of her life during the war; when asked, she would reply, “Das ist nicht für jetzt (that is not for now).” Though it shaped her, she never let what she’d been through, what she’d lost or the horrors she’d experienced or seen, slow her down or hold her back. She was fiercely independent, sharp, and quick-witted up until her death in 1998 at 87. She had a vibrancy about her that I still miss today.

Her life’s philosophy was to work hard, explore new places, laugh often, celebrate family, never go to bed angry, and end your day with a good beer. She was a beer snob to the end; tonight’s glass will be raised in her honor. Prost zu meine Lieblings Grossmutterlein!

This is a portrait of my oma Louise “Putzi” McGahuey, circa 1917, first day of school.

8. Mark Billows: I grew up with a single working mom pretty much the moment I was born. When you are young, you basically take everything for granted. Things just happen for you. You need to be somewhere, you are suddenly taken there. You need food, BAM, there it is. It’s like magic. Things just happen. As you get older, you realize more and more what it takes for parents to make that kind of experience for you. That said, I’m amazed at how much my single working mom must have done to provide for me and my brother.

Where am I going with this? Several years ago my mom and I were talking about the business world. During that conversation she mentioned how she was turned away from jobs not long after I was born because she was told by employers—who were men—that they wouldn’t want to see her having to deal with the male workers if hired. In other words, being exposed to sexual harassment and sexist behaviors. My mom had two young kids to feed, so she would tell them she’d learn to deal with it because she really needed the job. But the employers would still say no, thinking somehow they were doing her a favor. Now, how ridiculous a situation is that? No outcome here is acceptable. Yet that was the choice.

My mom would eventually get a job, earn an income, and work through the sexism and sexual harassment that was much more out in the open in her time than it is now. Meanwhile, things at home “magically” happened for my brother and me even with these added obstacles my mother faced.

Now, have things gotten all that much better than when my mom worked? Revelations and lawsuits at Fox News, Uber, branches of the US Armed Forces, the tech industry, etc., show us it hasn’t at a rate that’s anywhere near acceptable. I myself have either seen or have been told of sexism and sexual harassment by coworkers my entire career. Most all of us have. But my work path has been void of these added hurdles and minefields. Why? Because I have a Y chromosome.

This is why it’s important to provide equal experience as much as equal pay. Because equal pay doesn’t remove sexual harassment, chauvinism, or misogyny. Equal pay doesn’t change work customs and organizational platforms based on how men best operate, manage, and work. And equal pay doesn’t help women get promoted, listened to in meetings, or mentored effectively. Only an equal experience does all this. And the only way that can be provided is through the active involvement of all men, not just the ones who decide salaries, hiring, and budgets. All of us need to be leveling the playing field.

Now, creating a level playing field doesn’t just mean removing the uphill struggle for women. That’s only half of it. It also means voluntarily removing the downhill advantages men benefit from. The two are connected like the wood plank of a seesaw: the movement of one side determines the other. This means men will lose more job opportunities to deserving women. And we should. This also means we will make less in average salary, raises, and promotions over time so women can continue to get fairly compensated for the same work. And again, we should, as the quest for an equal experience relies on redistributing our historical pay and recognition advantage. For equality, this dynamic needs to happen; there is no other way it can.

So if you’re a man who supports equal pay for women, please do not lose sight of the bigger picture. Please notice the visible and the invisible elements in your work environment that unfairly obstruct women. Then work to remove those barriers, even if it means more effort and less benefits for you.

I also would suggest that guys ask their moms about the sexism and sexual harassment they experienced in life. It’s important you hear these things from her. She won’t tell you everything, but even one story will have an impact greater than a news story on this topic.

I don’t pretend I am saying anything new here. This is more a reminder that awareness of this issue isn’t good enough anymore: men need to be active in helping to solve this on all levels. If women and men can achieve an equal experience in the workplace, maybe we’ll do better in achieving that on a larger scale. You know, like on this planet we all share.

9. Andrew Gall: Andrea Gall was a registered nurse with Group Health up on Capitol Hill for her entire career (!) before retiring a couple of years back. For a good portion of the last couple decades, she ran the Teen Pregnancy Clinic, an incredibly challenging position that forced her to deal with everything from fired-up, angry young dads showing up at the clinic unannounced to debunking insane urban myths (“I was told if I drank Mountain Dew I couldn’t get pregnant!”), to maintaining a poker face upon hearing that the patient’s baby’s name is ABCDE (pronounced “Ab-ka-dee”). And all the while, she set hundreds of young ladies down the right path to successful new mommyhood. She has a patient sense of calm and humility that blows my mind daily. And now that she’s retired, I get to see that patience and calm on display firsthand with my son almost every week. She’s the best!

10. Sam Stuesser: The youngest daughter of a mailman in south Milwaukee, Virginia Stuesser graduated from Marquette University with a degree in advertising and marketing. Shortly thereafter, she started as a copywriter at a local radio station. Despite having a college degree, she was paid $400 a week, and was hit on by the station manager and a corporate executive.

After a few years, she met Dennis Curro, who had founded a small ad agency in Milwaukee, Curro/Eichenbaum. She became the firm’s first media director, learning the trade from the ground up.

At one agency, where she rebuilt the entire media department, she was told she was hired to be the “face” of the media department. During this time, it appeared that male agency principals could behave however they wished, which included kicking down locked doors, loudly ranting and raving, and berating employees when they were still in earshot. It was accepted. It was common.

Happily, Ginny is now a director at Shine United, a 42-person shop in Madison, Wisconsin, that has been featured in Communication Arts. Ginny is the agency’s first media director and takes pride in the team she has built, which is 100 percent female.

11. Cameron Wicker: My personal heroes are my great-aunts, Catherine and Margaret Wicker. Both were born in the early 1900s in Carthage, North Carolina, in a family with six children. When I was a kid, we’d go visit them—they lived on a tobacco farm in a tiny, rickety house my great-great-grandfather built. At the time, they were both retired, neither had ever married, and the two sisters lived together. They were both amazing cooks and made their own wine, which they called “recipe.” As a kid, I loved visiting them—they were so much fun and interesting, and both were great southern storytellers.

It was only later that I realized how remarkable they were. Catherine was super tall and her high school basketball team went to the state championships in the 1920s. This was back when women didn’t really play sports (and the women’s team played half court while wearing long dresses!). She was always really proud of that. She stayed in Carthage her whole life and made her living as a hairdresser.

Margaret went off to Atlanta to nursing school and eventually became the head nurse at Emory’s nursing school.

These two were such pioneers and firecrackers, especially for their time! I never once heard them regret not marrying or having children. And my family members never acted like it was anything out of the ordinary.

I don’t know if I realized it then, but they were certainly role models for me. I wish they were both alive right now so I could tell them. Here’s to Catherine and Margaret and all my fellow firecrackers!

12. Paul Balcerak: My mom raised three boys with not much help from my dad, including my youngest brother who had autism. This was back in the 1990s when there wasn’t much knowledge about what that was or how to deal with it. Life was a huge struggle at times. He bounced around to (I lost track of how many) different schools, therapists, specialists, and so on. But my mom just kept on trucking. She never knew if he’d be able to hold down a job or live on his own, but she never stopped trying to make the best life for him possible.

Sadly, he also struggled heavily with depression. Three years ago this spring, he shot and killed himself and my stepsister. Which is really sad, and a lot of us in the family just shut down for a while. My mom, though—within six months, she had signed up as a volunteer with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and was the citizen sponsor on Initiative 1491 (that’s her and my stepdad on the far left). That initiative passed on the night of the 2016 elections and created a Washington State law that allows police and family members to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order, which—yes—allows the government to come take your guns if you’ve displayed a history of dangerous behavior toward yourself and/or others. It’s the kind of thing we would have used on my brother if it had existed at the time.

Fast-forward to last week—the Seattle Police Department served an ERPO warrant on a guy just down the street from us in Belltown who had been harassing and threatening his neighbors. They took a handgun from him and are working on getting other guns from him, too.

So: Sad story, yes. But our little corner of the world is a little bit safer today thanks to my mom. Cheers to her.

13. Sun Yi: Let me tell you about my mom. I’ve known her all my life, but sometimes she can still be a mystery to me. She did not have a mother figure while growing up, but was the best mom I could’ve ever wished for. She moved to a new country at the age of 29, not knowing the language and not knowing if it would all turn out. She taught me how to ride a bike. Then, she learned how to drive and had the opportunity to work outside the home. Her humility and strength amaze me even today. I will raise a glass to her and all the many women here and everywhere who may not make the daily news, but are still changing the world.

14. Dave Kurs: The best woman of international fame that I know is my grandmother. She raised three daughters in a 900-square-foot apartment in Queens after moving to the US from Beirut in 1962.

15. Teresa Ling: Growing up in a multicultural household is one of those things that cannot be explained, but, rather, must be experienced. My grandmother—conqueror of six languages, a Taiwanese immigrant, and former fashion icon—made navigating what felt like two separate worlds so much easier. She kept me grounded in my culture: we played Chinese chess together after school, fried green onion pancakes in the kitchen, and watched Japanese dramas on the weekends. At the same time, she showed me the beauty of Seattle and all the things available in America that weren’t as accessible back home in Taiwan. She helped me build a bridge between where home was in my heart and where home was physically. She taught me to appreciate my surroundings, but to never lose sight of my roots, and to find joy and laughter in every moment. She’s truly one of the most remarkable women I know, and I live every day hoping to be a little more like her.

16. Jim Copacino: The story of my beloved grandmothers (“the Nonnas”) is the story of America. Born in the late 19th century in an impoverished region of northern Italy, they left home as young women to seek better lives in the United States. (Footnote: there were only 46 states when they arrived!) They crossed the Atlantic in steerage, arriving in the New World without language skills or job opportunities. Their only stateside connections were distant relatives.

They found menial jobs. Nonna Copacino (born Carolina Roero) worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Nonna Serasio (born Rosa Conti) worked as a domestic for a family in Brooklyn. Each woman eventually married and relocated to Torrington, a town in northwestern Connecticut where a number of immigrants from their native region found work in the local brass mill. They settled into humble yet comfortable working-class lives. I was born in Torrington and grew up in a small house adjacent to the duplex where my grandmothers lived. Nonna Copacino and my grandfather, Luigi, lived downstairs; the widowed Nonna Serasio lived upstairs.

The memories of my childhood are vivid and warm. My grandmothers doted on my brothers and me; theirs were a second home for us. Every Sunday afternoon was an extended-family feast prepared by the Nonnas—antipasti, soup, pasta, meat, and dessert. The wine flowed, the adults sang Italian songs, the kids played in the yard, laughter filled the air. What stood out to me, even as a boy, was how grateful my grandmothers were for their lives and families.

As I listen to the current political discourse, I often think of Nonna Copacino and Nonna Serasio. Why would we want to close our borders to people who have the desire and courage to improve their lives? Why deprive people who are so appreciative of the opportunity? Why deny the beauty of cultural diversity to our society? Are you listening, Mr. President?

(Nonna Serasio, Nonna Copacino, and some dork in a bad tuxedo at my wedding)

17. Colby Naiker: I am lucky to be surrounded by powerful female figures. But I have to give a shout-out to my amazing mama. Not only did she and my dad raise two girls of their own, but she was responsible for influencing the lives of countless students in her 38 years as a teacher at Fife High School. My mom is the rock of our family. She’s taught us how to communicate effectively, practice empathy, and be direct. She has a huge heart and firmly believes in leading by example. I am also incredibly lucky that she retired and gets to spend two days a week watching my two-year-old! They have developed an incredible bond, and we are so spoiled to have her in our lives.

18. Dimitri Perera: My grandma immigrated to the US back in the 1970s, without knowing anyone. She worked tirelessly and was able to sponsor my dad and the rest of my family to come here for school. She started a path that allowed my family to have a life in the US, and that’s pretty powerful. In the mid-1990s she was diagnosed with cancer, and I remember she was super positive throughout it all. I didn’t really grasp how devastating cancer was at the time, but knowing what I know now, it’s not surprising how she would put on a positive and strong display when I was around with my cousins.

19. Andrew Clementi: My girlfriend, Kayla, is not only the most inspiring woman I know but also the most inspiring person, period. She’s insanely smart, highly motivated, and has a seriously impressive life story: growing up in borderline poverty, she decided that in order to be successful, she would leave home at age 13 to put herself through boarding school. The fact that she accomplished that would be pretty impressive on its own, but she had her sights set even higher; ignoring the advice of her peers and her own doubts, she applied to and was accepted into nearly all the Ivy League schools, ultimately settling on Yale. While studying at one of the most demanding universities in the world, she steadily worked two jobs to pay her bills and graduate with a minimum of debt—no mean feat at a school where tuition alone is nearly $50,000 a year. After graduation, rather than taking a cushy finance job, she dedicated her career to aiding underprivileged communities and first-generation college students. Of course, she’s not really the type to rest on her laurels and has already begun the process of studying for and applying to business school (at the top 10 universities, obviously). Watching her plan for her goals and put those plans into action, I’ve begun to understand why she’s been able to accomplish so much: she’s driven to be the best person that she can be, and she won’t let anything get in the way of that.

As someone who was born with much more and has accomplished much less, seeing that drive is both humbling and inspiring. In so many ways, she’s inspired me to strive for more, to not make excuses, to continually challenge myself, and to be a better person; it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if I hadn’t met Kayla.

20. Nicole Koestel: My grandmother, Kathryn Debnar Arwine, affectionately known as Mammaw, is hands down one of the most resilient, selfless, positive, and courageous women I know. She has survived so many hardships in life with grace and love that it’s pretty hard to comprehend at times.

She was born to two Czechoslovakian immigrants in Detroit in 1924, who basically told her she was worthless. Her dad was an alcoholic; her mom probably had what we know nowadays as bipolar disorder. My grandmother lived in poverty, was an only child, and didn’t have many toys. (I remember reading her writing in a book how grateful she was to have one toy and a stick to play with.) She also was born premature, weighing 1.5 pounds, 5–6 inches in length: it was a miracle that she lived through that during that time. So if anyone was set up to fail, it was this woman . . . but not so fast.

Growing up was lonely for her, so she used her natural musical ability (on piano) and singing (opera) and her faith to keep going. While she was studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1949, she received a Fulbright Scholarship from the Italian government to study opera at the Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan, Italy. She performed there and in New York City throughout her 20s. Her favorite opera is La Traviata. Unfortunately, she never could fully make a career from singing because of her health. She was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But Mams didn’t let that stop her: she found many ways to continue singing and performing up through her 70s—whether it was in church or on a theater stage; she even acted in a few local commercials.

Side note: She also made sure music was passed down to her grandchildren—I remember when we would go visit her, our two movie choices were either Fiddler on the Roof or Sound of Music, for like 10 years in a row. She did not try to keep up with Disney. She also inspired me to take the 10 years of piano that I did.

After she divorced my mom’s father, she went back to school in her 50s to get her master’s degree in special education. She graduated the same year my mom graduated high school. I find this so inspiring! Especially during that time with the expected roles for women. She remarried and taught special ed classes and piano lessons in her home. She was always quick with a laugh, and loved taking us to shows and teaching us about history.

In her early 70s, she got in a car wreck that re-triggered her MS, so the last 15 years or so of her life had her moving progressively slower. And then later she developed macular degeneration, which is an incurable eye disease leaving blurred peripheral vision. Attached is one of my favorite pics with her as we always had fun when we would say, “Look at the camera, Mams, and smile,” knowing that her face would not be facing the camera. She was a great spirit.

So despite only making it to four foot eleven, she shouldered so many huge setbacks with such humor and faith, showing us all how our outlook on life really does affect how we respond to the world and our realities. She had one of the biggest hearts I have ever encountered. So thankful and proud to call her mine.